Sunday, December 22, 2013

It's Been A While, But I Finally Have A New Recipe

Dear Muffins, I’m so sorry I have been so MIA.  I worried that there are readers out there who don’t hang out with me offline and aren’t friends on Facebook, and thus they have been left hanging about my Thanksgiving.  I let an entire month go by without as much as a “How I’m doing” update let alone a recipe. 
For those of you waiting with bated breath about whether or not I made it to Chicago for Thanksgiving, I have good news.  The weather, while hardly mild and gentle, was not so bad as to ground all flights.  We made it to Chicago in good time and celebrated Thanksgiving as planned with the Pickypants family.  (Whenever I complain that my husband is a picky eater, I just remember his brother and nephew who are so much worse).  We had dinner as per usual at Lovell’s of Lake Forest.  My brother-in-law admitted he's boring because he always wants to have Thanksgiving at the same place. (I forgot my camera, so please forgive the photo quality as it all came from my phone.)

 What did I eat?
Yummy lamb shank in a sauce lightly flavored with cinnamon and served over orzo.  Once again, I bucked tradition and didn’t order the turkey.  I admit this year I was tempted.
We ate at most of our other usual haunts, so I don’t have much to report on new restaurants.  I did enjoy one particularly tasty experience at the Drake Hotel, consuming a traditional afternoon tea. 
We had cranberry scones and gingerbread madelienes, turkey salad sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, and salmon sandwiches, and some pastries.  I washed it down with pear caramel tea and a mimosa or two.
The spreads were as delicious as the foods themselves.  We had clotted cream, lemon curd, and a jam whose component fruit I couldn’t recognize. 
Upon my return I haven’t done much creative cooking.  I have fallen back on traditional recipes like chili, chicken cacciatore, and spaghetti with turkey meat sauce.  I have become so boring.
This week I realized it was time to get out of my rut already.  I just needed the right inspiration.  I needed that idea, that ingredient, that would shake me into cooking a new way.
I found today’s inspiration in a novel.  There was a chapter that had its doomed hero cooking a chicken for his girlfriend.  He roasted it with cherries.  The story took place during cherry season, which made imitating that idea a little tougher for me, but that wasn’t an issue for long.  Once the spark is lit in my brain, I can take it in whatever direction it needs to go.  So I thought, “What about dried cherries?  What about some other dried fruits?  What goes nicely with dried fruits?” 
I found adorable little Baby Chickens at the Amish Market in Manhattan.  They were most definitively called "baby chickens" and not cornish hens.  Whatever they were, I found them too cute not to buy.
 I stuffed them with a mixture of farro, caramelized onions, dried cherries, and dried apples. I mixed the pan juices with brandy, cream, and thyme.   I had my own version of the book recipe and it was the perfect recipe for this time of year.  It was sort of festive-  as if I were making my own Christmas dinner for two. 

Stuffed Baby Chickens
  • 2-4 baby chickens, 1 pound each (the recipe makes a lot of stuffing, so even though I only made two, there is more than enough stuffing to go around)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 Tbl olive oil plus more for rubbing on the chickens
  • 1/2 cup  farro
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup dried apples, chopped
  • 1 Tbl pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper for sprinkling
Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small pan, heat 2 Tbl olive oil over low heat and gently cook onions until very soft and sweet. 

Meanwhile bring water and salt to a boil in a small saucepan.  Add farro and reduce to a simmer.  Cover and cook about 15 minutes, until they are semi-tender.  Drain the water.  

Mix farro with the fruit, onions and pine nuts.  Gently spoon the mixture into the cavities of the chickens.  Rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Cook at 350 for 55-60 minutes.

Remove chickens from pan.  Place pan over the burner of your stove and add brandy to the pan juices.  Scrap up any brown bits from the bottom.  Add thyme and bring to a boil.  Add the cream and boil another minute.  

Serve chickens with pan sauce. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

This and That. Ethnic Authenticity, Thanksgiving, and One Short Recipe

Sorry again TERP Muffins for my lack of an appearance lately.  Life is a whirlwind these days.  I hardly have time to sit down at the computer at these days, and when I do, it’s always to make narcissistic blogs about my weight loss progress.  My time in the kitchen has been utterly lacking in creativity with me relying pretty heavily on old standbys like turkey meatloaf or turkey burgers or turkey Bolognese over spaghetti, or turkey chili, or a roast chicken.  I think I made a lamb chop and some sole filets last week too. 

I have probably spent way too much time eating out as well.  I haven’t eaten at any new restaurants, so I can’t even review anything.  However, restaurants have been weighing on my mind lately.
How do you feel about ethnic foods?  What draws you to them?  What do you hope to gain?  Are you looking for a connection to another culture, are you looking to expand your culinary horizons and increase your foodie cred, or are you just looking for something that tastes good?

For example, one of my favorite local restaurants is an Italian restaurant.  I use the word “Italian” lightly.  It’s Italian food interpreted by Italian immigrants to the United States and further refined by future generations to suit the American palate.  It’s what you might call Italian-American or just a “red sauce joint.”  It bears very little resemblance to the home cooking I ate in Italy.  Red sauce Italian tends to be rather homogeneous, but it’s hard to pin down “Italian” cooking as food can vary from region to region.  There are restaurants that do try to be more authentic and imitate the food of a particular region, and I enjoy them, but their existence doesn’t negate my enjoyment of Italian-American food done well.

There are plenty of foodies out there who would disdain such a restaurant not because the food is bad, but simply because it's not truly Italian.  It's not the Tuscan farmhouse cooking I ate on that Italian trip.  It's not authentic Bolognese ragu.  It's just meat sauce.  Let's not even get started on pizza, which is always best in New York anyway.

Foodies who think an Italian-American "red sauce joint" is a special cuisine unto itself do exsit.  They will admit to enjoying it.  However, very few of these places pass muster because even Italian-American cooking has to be prepared a certain way.  You need an actual Italian grandparents in the kitchen before they accept it.

Asian restaurants of all stripes suffer from this type of reinterpreation, and then rejection.  My neighborhood is filled with "Pan-Asian" restaurants that are mostly extensive sushi bars with some typical Chinese menu items, some teriyaki meat dishes, a noodle soup or three, and one or two Thai offerings.  Food snobs often take offense that a single cuisine can be so badly watered down or else take offense that one can distill the multiple cuisines of a very large continent into one menu.  While the politically correct points are well made, does that make the food any worse?

Even single Asian cuisines can't escape the scrutiny of authenticity seekers.  When I go see a show at the New World Stages, I always have dinner at Bann. It's a Korean restaurant that supposedly has fusion elements to it.  I don't know enough about Korean cuisine to know just how fusion it is and how far it slips from authenticity. I do know food snobs love to hate Bann because it's not "real" Korean.

The single element that keeps me going back to Bann or Chef Antonio or any of the Pan-Asian places on my block is simple.  The food tastes good.  I enjoy it not because it purely reflects the culture from which it came.  I enjoy it simply for the taste.  Is my taste too "American" and that's why I only like Americanized versions of ethnic dishes?  I don't know.  I do know that if I enjoy a meal somewhere, I am not going to let my enjoyment of it be hindered because it contains a few ingredients or techniques not found in its native country.  Do you ever wonder if the chefs prefer it that way?  Maybe it's not authentic because the chef has decided he or she really likes how certain inauthentic ingredients or techniques in the dishes.

Have Americans become too obsessed with food as the epitome of a culture and the best way for Americans to connect to the exotic?  What are we eating when we eat at an ethnic restaurant, or even eating a meal in a foreign country?  No matter what, we are eating the best of what that culture has to offer unless we're living in someone else's home. We're eating occasion food.  We're eating the stuff that is served to company.  What we are eating in the best and most authentic restaurants possible, we are still eating differently from what the average family eats every day.

Soleil Ho argues that one of the problems is that American chefs are interpreting the cuisines to the detriment of authenticity, not to make it more suitable to American palates, but to increase the snob appeal.

The menus usually include little blurbs about how the chefs used to backpack in the steaming jungles of the Far East (undoubtedly stuffing all the herbs and spices they could fit into said backpacks along the way, for research purposes), and were so inspired by the smiling faces of the very generous natives—of which there are plenty of tasteful black-and-white photos on the walls, by the way—and the hospitality, oh, the hospitality, that they decided the best way to really crystallize that life-changing experience was to go back home and sterilize the cuisine they experienced by putting some microcilantro on that $20 curry to really make it worthy of the everyday American sophisticate. American chefs like to talk fancy talk about “elevating” or “refining” third-world cuisines, a rhetoric that brings to mind the mission civilisatrice that Europe took on to justify violent takeovers of those same cuisines’ countries of origin. In their publicity materials, Spice Market* uses explicitly objectifying language to describe the culture they’re appropriating: “A timeless paean to Southeast Asian sensuality, Spice Market titillates Manhattan’s Meatpacking District with Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s piquant elevations of the region’s street cuisine.” The positioning of Western aesthetics as superior, or higher, than all the rest is, at its bottom line, an expression of the idea that no culture has value unless it has been “improved” by the Western Midas touch. If a dish hasn’t been eaten or reimagined by a white person, does it really exist?

It seems in this case the chef is trying to prove himself as both a seasoned traveler, a culinary adventurer, as well as the ultimate creative chef.  I can see how it would insult someone who came from that culture and it might be something many food snobs seeking the most sophisticated ethnic cuisines wouldn't think about.

But then there are the foodies who crave authenticity in food in order to prove their own authenticity?  Do they feel the need to show just how adventurous they are? As Ho puts it:

The foodies’ cultural cachet depends on being the only white American person in the room, braving inhumane spice levels and possible food poisoning in order to share with you the proper way to handle Ethiopian injera bread. But they can’t cash in on it unless they share their discoveries with someone else, thereby jeopardizing that sense of exclusivity. Thus, happiness tends to elude the cultural foodie.

Are we all trying to be Anthony Bourdains or Andrew Zimmermans always trying to push the envelope of what and where we are willing to eat?

The truth is for me it doesn't really matter.  When I am looking to try a new restaurant I look at menus and see if they sound interesting and tasty.  I don't worry about whether or not they eat mangoes in China.  Globalization has made isolated, pure, cuisine almost impossible.  Think of it this way, we don't question the authenticity of tomato-based sauces on Italian food, but we forget that tomatoes are not native to Italy.  Spam didn't originate in Hawaii.  Chili peppers are not native to Asia, but we hate to think of Chinese or Thai cuisines without them.

How about we all just enjoy a plate of food and not worry about the recipe.

*I have eaten at Spice Market and enjoyed it.

And now for something completely different...

Thanksgiving is upon us.  I hope all of my friends reading this blog are planning to spend a plentiful meal with family and loved ones.  

My own Thanksgiving plans are doubtful.  I was planning to fly to Chicago, as I often do on Thanksgiving, to have dinner with my brother-in-law and his family.  It's always a great trip filled with great food.  We had our hotel and flight all set.

Now with the horrible storms heading to the east coast, our trip is doubtful.  We doubt our flight won't be cancelled.  Chances are we're going to be spending Thanksgiving at home, with no one to share it with.  We will eat our Thanksgiving dinner at the Diner, knowing we at least have each other.

I have mixed feelings about our dinner plans.  The diner is open 24/7/365, so it's not as if it being open is anything unusual.  They are open Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, Easter, Groundhog Day and every holiday in between.  It still doesn't sit well with me.  I am among those who refuse to shop on Thanksgiving day.  I will boycott WalMart (I refuse to shop there anyway).  I will boycott Best Buy.  I think it's a terrible abuse of the overworked and underpaid workforce as well as a hijacking of Thanksgiving.  Is patronizing a diner that's open on the holiday any better?  I know it's open all of the time and people will go there anyway, but I still feel bad.  At least it's a small, family-run business with a fair amount of long-time loyal staff.  They aren't a big corporation doing its best to take advantage of the workforce while raking in millions.

This year it seems so much harder not to think of those less fortunate.  What's my big hardship?  I don't get to board a plane, stay a weekend at a hotel, eat in expensive restaurants, and see family?  At least I'll have a meal and I have a husband to share it with.

Too many people this year aren't so lucky.  WalMart is paying its workers so little that it has food drives by employees for employees (instead of just paying them enough to buy their own Thanksgiving dinners in the first place).  More low-wage workers are depending on SNAP, but as SNAP benefits have been cut across the board, there isn't much to live off of these days

Please during this holiday season don't forget to give a thought, a few dollars, some time, or a few cans of food to those less fortunate.  None of us really knows how many paychecks we are away from the breadlines.  Don't judge those who have so much less than you.  Give them a helping hand.  You never know if that person needing help might be you some day and you will be glad someone returned the favor.

And now for the recipe...

I threw this one together on a "casual Friday" recently, just trying to so something simple and different with chicken.

I know this is a terrible photo.  I'm lucky I remembered I had a camera this night let alone set up the light box and props.   I served with a nice cauliflower mash.

Apple and 5-Spice Chicken Breasts

  • 6 thin chicken breasts cutlets
  •  1 onion, diced
  • 1 golden delicious apple, sliced
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/2 tsp 5-spice powder
  • Juice and zest of 1 orange
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large pan.  Over low heat cook onions until soft.  Add apple and cook until apple is soft.  Remove from pan.

Brown chicken breasts on both sides, about 5 minutes.

Mix together juice, brandy, 5-spice powder, and zest.  Add that to the pan along with the apples and onions.  Cook another 5 minutes and serve.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

My Annual War on Pumpkin Continues - Un-Pumpkin Pie

I know I haven't been blogging much, nor have I been visiting many blogs.  I think anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows why.  October and November are pumpkin and squash season, and this time of year no one seems to want to cook with anything else, or read blog posts about anything else, so why even bother posting?

Let me restate it.  I hate pumpkin.  In fact, I hate squash in general.  The only squashes I can tolerate are the summer squashes like zucchini and yellow squash, and they have to be prepared properly.  "Prepared properly" does not mean sticking them inside my cakes, cookies, muffins, and quick breads.  In fact, I don't think vegetables of any kind belong in desserts (especially carrots - bleah).  Also fruits disguised as vegetables don't belong in my dessert (no tomato soup cake for me.)

There isn't much I can do about the assault of squash this time of year.  Pumpkin is in everything.  Now I'm even seeing butternut squash in desserts.  Every blog, every magazine, and every restaurant is serving up a heaping helping of squashes in just about every course.

At this point I'm about to curl up in the corner in a fetal ball crying, "Uncle" over and over again.

I know I'm not the only pumpkin hater out there.  I suspect that many of us are simply underground.  It's pointless to fight against the onslaught because it will go on no matter how much we complain.  Then also, by declaring our hatred of pumpkin, we have to be told by these pumpkin lovers just how wrong we are.  We open ourselves up to a lot of criticism and ridicule.

At least the pumpkin madness is temporary.  It fades out after Thanksgiving. Better food obsessions are on the horizon.  If there is anything redeeming about the month of February, it's the emphasis on chocolate in the food world. It almost makes up for October and November.

I started thinking about something.  How many pumpkin lovers actually like pumpkin itself?  I have had some pumpkin desserts I could choke down. It wasn't because of the pumpkin.  It was about the cinnamon and the cream and the cake.  Pumpkin desserts are usually filled with cream and cream cheese and sugar and butter and white flour and sweet spices.  A rich dessert filled with butter and spice can hide almost anything.  Does (barf) pumpkin coffee really taste like pumpkin, or does it just taste like coffee mixed with spices?  Ditto for (gag) pumpkin beer.  I remember carving jack-o-lanterns as a kid and hating the vomitous smell that emanated from inside the pumpkin.  Does anyone think it smells appetizing?  If I gave you a can of pumpkin (which isn't really pumpkin) and a spoon, would you want to chow down?  (I keep thinking about how I used to cut my dog's kibble with canned pumpkin when she needed to lose weight.)  Pumpkin is awful, but cake and pie and custard and cream are all good.  I couldn't stop thinking about how so many of the seasonal pleasures of pumpkin desserts can be obtained without using any pumpkin whatsoever.

So it was back to the kitchen for me.  I wanted to devise a rich, creamy, spicy pie with all of good stuff and none of the bad (i.e. pumpkin).  I wanted an Un-Pumpkin Pie.

I started by baking a rich all-butter pie crust.  For this recipe, I'm going to leave your choice of crust up to you.  I will look the other way if you use one pre-made.

Next I adapted a pastry cream recipe from King Arthur flour.  It was an interesting recipe as it contained both flour and corn starch.  Usually these recipes contain one or the other.  It produced a nice tight custard that didn't take long to thicken.  I mixed mine with brown sugar along with the white.   Then I used the typical spices found in pumpkin pie and then added a splash of rum.

By late Friday evening (so late I didn't bother taking out the light box and getting a better photo), I had my pie. 
I topped it with whipped cream the next morning and took it to the barn with me, using my horse loving friends as guinea pigs.

I would have liked to have taken a photo of a whipped-cream topped slice, but my friends hacked the pie up to bits in taking their slices.  The pie went over really well.  Everyone loved it.  When I explained that it was meant to be like pumpkin pie without the pumpkin, many of them confessed they didn't like pumpkin pie either.  It was something they just felt like they were supposed to like this time of year.

I use Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon in this recipe, which is a very strong cinnamon.  The cinnamon flavor in the pie is very strong. I worried it might be too much. No one complained though and I simply ditched my plan to add cinnamon to the whipped cream topping.  You might want to play with your spice mix if you think one spice might be too overpowering.

I will definitely make this again as a new tradition in fall desserts.

Un-Pumpkin Pie is the unofficial name, but I'm giving it a nicer name offiically.

Brown Sugar & Spice Cream Pie


  • 1pre-baked pie crust
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • Pinch allspice
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1Tbl flour
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 4 Tbl butter
  • 1/4 cup rum
  • 1cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbl sifted powdered sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla
In a saucepan combine 2 1/2 cups of milk, sugar, salt, and spices.

In a small bowl combine remaining 1/2 cup of milk, cornstarch, flour, and egg yolks.

Heat milk and saucepan stirring until sugar dissolves and bring to a simmer over medium heat.   Add a small amount of the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture and quickly whisk together.  Strain the egg mixture into the pot and bring to a boil, stirring with a whisk until the custard thickens.  This should happen pretty quickly.

Strain the mixture into a bowl.  Add the rum and the butter.  Allow to cool and pour into the baked pie crust.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill.

In a cold bowl with cold beaters (I put my whipping equipment in the freezer for a half hour before I make whipped cream) beat the cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until semi-stiff peaks form.  Spread over the surface of the pie and serve.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Birthday Blunder Becomes An Introduction to Another New Kid in Town: Andrea's 25 North

It was SPP's birthday this week.  I told him that he could choose any restaurant he wanted for the big day.  We considered our local options, and he chose Fiamma.  We had only eaten there once, but it had made quite an impression on us and we were eager to go back and see what the night's menu would be.

Fiamma has only one big disadvantage.  It doesn't take reservations for parties of fewer than six people.  On a Tuesday night, we did not think this would be a problem.  How wrong we were!  We arrived at the restaurant to find another party waiting inside the door ahead of us.  Six more people were standing at the bar. (The bar has no seat and doesn't serve food. Waiting at the bar means standing around drinking wine and feeling hungry until a table becomes available).  We knew there would be no table available for us for a very long time.

When it comes to dinner, I don't do waiting on line.  If you don't take reservations and you want to keep hordes of people waiting at the door, then I go elsewhere.  As much as I liked Fiamma, I doubt I'll be going there again any time soon.  No restaurant is that good.  I never understood why restaurants that popular won't take reservations.  Do the chefs and owners just get an ego trip from seeing people lined up?

So we were left wondering what to do.  We didn't have reservations for anyplace else, although there were plenty of restaurants that likely wouldn't be so busy on a Tuesday night.  We considered our old standby Chef Antonio, which was only a block away, but we eat there at least once a month and it's not all that special.  We considered Piccolo Mulino, a small Italian restaurant right across the street from our building, but we had eaten there for our anniversary.  Kevin was really in the mood for Italian.

Then an idea hit me.  'What about that new place on the Post Road?'

The new place on the Post Road, was a steak house called the Toll Gate for many years.  I used to really love it, but once I met Sir Pickypants, I never went back (for obvious reasons).  When it went downhill and eventually out of business, another restaurant or two tried to occupy the building with no success.  Recently, it was renovated and Andrea's 25 North took over.

We walked into a very lovely bar area on the restaurant's ground floor level.  There was no one there to greet us.  That was a little annoying.  Getting frustrated and leaving didn't seem like an option since it was getting later and we didn't want to be driving all over town looking for a nice restaurant.  Finally a busboy came and seated us.

The restaurant is on three levels.  The first level is the entrance and the bar area.  The next two levels are dining rooms.  We sat on the second level, in front of one of the huge picture windows that make up the front wall of the space.  Decor is simple and soothing.  The walls are brick and the lighting is soft.  The decor is minimal and tasteful.

Since I hadn't been planning to eat in a new restaurant that night, I didn't have my camera.  All I had was my phone.  It's hard to get decor and atmosphere shots with your phone, but I tried.

The manager came to our table and apologized profusely for not being at the front desk when we walked in.  He kissed our buts the whole night after that.  I felt a bit bad for him.  We assured him as much as we could through the night that we were having a good time and that our little pre-dinner glitch didn't spoil anything.

We weren't lying either.  We really did have a lovely evening.  Our waiter came out and he was very attentive and just a lot of fun.  Then of course there was the food.

They placed a dish of some kind of powder on the table.  I wasn't sure what it was for, but then the busboy came along and explained they were dried herbsfor the bread and poured a glug of olive  oil into the dish, which become a dipping oil.

The wine list wasn't huge and cumbersome and had some great selections.  We sipped our wine and perused our menus.  The cuisine is, at its heart, is typical "red sauce joint" food, but expanded and creatively elevated with new angles and ingredients.

We started with salads.  I had arugula, parmesan, and tomatoes, while Kevin enjoyed a chopped salad.  Both salads were huge.  Andrea's doesn't skimp on portion sizes.

For the main course, the birthday boy splurged on both the wheat and the dairy and had lobster ravioli with pink sauce.

I had lamb chops.  This was the special for the evening.  The cabernet sauce on the side was to die for.  The potatoes on the side were nice and crispy.

One dish I had really been looking forward to at Fiamma was the Nutella-stuffed zeppoli.  There was no need to worry.  Andrea's had zeppoli too - filled with oreas and then dipped in Nutella!  See that white mound in the middle of the plate?  That wasn't whipped cream.  It was cannoli cream.  (I don't know why my flash wouldn't discharge when I tried to take a picture of the dessert.)

What started out as a confused and disappointing night ended up being an exceptionally enjoyable meal in terms of atmosphere, service, and food.  We definitely want to go to Andrea's again.  It's a little pricey for a casual weekend night out, but I would definitely come here for occasions.   This would be a great place to bring our families for special dinners.

Best of all, they take reservations.  They're even on Open Table.  Take that Fiamma!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

New Kid in Town - Dominican Kitchen

I have mentioned in previous posts my newfound love of Dominican cooking, which is a subset of my love for Caribbean cooking in general.  The thought of rice, plantains, and slow-cooked pork just sets my heart a-flutter.  With so many tasty Latin American options in my neighborhood, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that a Dominican restaurant might find a place alongside the Mexican, Peruvian, and Salvadoran establishments.  Still I was surprised when it opened - and pleasantly so.  I couldn't wait to not have to wait until I was at work to get my Dominican fix.

As it goes with many new restaurants, it took longer than I wanted to eat there finally.  It's always hard to get Sir Pickypants to try a new place.  It's twice as hard if the restaurant in question is not the least bit busy.  He is always suspicious of empty restaurants.   It must be a sign that a new place is bad, rather than because potential new customers simply aren't aware of it yet and the owners can't afford big gala openings to promote it.  I took it upon myself to feel sort of responsible for their success.  If we ate there and I blogged and Yelped it, I might encourage more patrons.  If we didn't lead the charge and create more awareness to bring more patrons to the restaurant and it closed due to lack of business, I would feel terribly guilty.

Perhaps I do suffer from a sense of self-importance.  Why would I believe a new restaurant's fate would lie in my hands?

I finally did try the place this weekend thanks to a visit from a culinarily adventurous friend.  I am now here to tell you about it.  I feel much better now.

Various delis and coffee shops previously occupied Dominican Kitchen's space.  The decor doesn't do much to change that.  It is a very casual place that is still rooted in the coffee shop origins.  It's pretty plain with a few touches here and there to spruce it up and remind diners of its ethnic origins.  It has the deli counters still in place.

Our hosts were very nice, although they were women of few words.  English was clearly not their first language, but I'm not bothered by that.  Service might be called slow, but I think they were just mindful of the fact that my husband, my friend, and I were simply enjoying a leisurely evening of long conversations.  We were the only guests eating in the place, so they were in no hurry to turn the table. They paid attention to our water glasses the whole evening.

But enough about the atmosphere.  Let's talk food.

They brought a basket of toasted bread.  I didn't eat it as I was trying to be somewhat good that night. The word from those who did eat it was that it was good.

They have a regular permanent menu consisting of several seafood dishes and a few beef and chicken dishes.  In addition to that they have rotating daily specials.  I was hoping for pernil, but alas, Friday was not pernil night.  I decided to go with another Dominican (by way of Puerto Rico) specialty, mofongo, as did my friend.  They serve my favorite, mangu`, but only for breakfast.  I had to have my plantains in another form.

Mofongo is a molded dish of seasoned fried and mashed plantains mixed with meat  Dominican Kitchen offers it in pork or chicken.  We both tried pork.  It was a very filling and flavorful dish.  It was rather heavy on the garlic - I still had dragon breath in the morning - but filled with wonderful crispy bits of pork.  A small pitcher of jus-like sauce was served alongside it that helped add extra meaty flavor and moistened it a bit (plantains can be a bit dry when cooked).

The less adventurous member of our party chose something a bit more familiar - shrimp and rice.

There were no sides to speak of.  Things like rice or beans were sold a la carte.  We ordered no appetizers either.  It might have seemed like there wasn't much food, but my dinner was very filling.  I didn't need anything else.

While we were the only diners eating in house, I stopped worrying so much about the restaurant's fate.  The number of people I saw coming in for pickups demonstrated a fairly robust takeout business.  

I definitely want to eat here again and explore the menu further.  I must eat here on pernil day!  I will likely follow the crowd though and order takeout.  That way I don't have to worry about a husband feeling self-conscious in an empty restaurant.  Takeout has its advantages after all (like Domincan Kitchen doesn't serve alcohol).

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Little Seasonal Stuff

What is it with the weather this year?  We had a normal, hot July.  Then August came and the temperatures dropped. August felt like October.  Now September and October feel like August.

I'm not complaining too much.  I'm a summer girl.  To me fall is beautiful for only a short period of time.  The leaves turn, it's pretty for 3-4 weeks maximum.  Then it all falls off, everything dies, the weather gets cold, the days grow dark, and we just sit around waiting for winter so we can just get it over with.  No thank you! 

Summer weather is kind of inconvenient this time of year though.  I usually start putting away all of my beloved shorts, sandals, and sundresses by now.  What's even worse is that all of the pools and beaches are closed, so what's the point of warm weather?  Swimming is the biggest joy of summer after all.  I need friends who live close by who keep their pools open until Columbus Day or else I need to find a nearby lake or beach where you can sneak in a swim even when there aren't any lifeguards.

No matter what the weather, this time of year always brings forth the fall recipes.  That is the other aspect of this season I hate.  I can't stand the proliferation of squash.  Whether it's savory dishes with butternut squash (or whatever the trendy gourd du jour is) or sweet dishes with pumpkin (or sweet dishes with other squash and savory dishes with "pumpkin" - which usually isn't really pumpkin), this time of year makes me want to just bury my head in the sand and stay away from all food media until Christmas. 

There is one saving grace among the fall foods.  I do love pears and plums and apples.  You can always pile on the apple recipes.  Give me apple pie and apple tart and apple cake.  Put all kinds of apple sauces on my savory foods.   Here's a way to know how good a dish can be.  An apple tastes good as is.  You bite into a tasty crisp apple, and if you like apples, you will be happy.  Who opens a can of pumpkin (which isn't actually pumpkin) and thinks, "Yummy this stuff looks delicious"? As for real, fresh pumpkins, they're even worse.  I remember in the days when I carved jack-o-lanterns how nauseated I felt by the barftastic pumpkin smell as I gutted and carved them.  I sure didn't want to eat that!  You have to put a lot of stuff into a pumpkin to make it palatable.  Well, if you add lots of cream, butter, sugar, and cinnamon to anything, it's kind of likely to be palatable.

Yes, I know I do way too much anti-pumpkin ranting this time of year.  I know my War on Pumpkin is a lost cause, but I still seem to want to keep fighting the good fight.

So let's get back to fall-themed apple dishes.  This time of year dishes tend to get a bit heavier, a bit richer.   My recipe for this post is no exception, although I suppose it's not as rich and heavy as it could be.  My clothes are getting awfully big on me these days and while I don't know how I am going to afford shopping for new stuff, I kind of prefer having them too loose than too tight.  This dish uses skinless chicken and just a little touch of cream.  A year ago I might have made it with whole chicken pieces, bacon, and twice as much cream.  (I admit I almost decided to use bacon in this anyway.)  It also contains mushrooms, which are earthy and make me think of foraging in autumnal forests.  I don't use whole apples, but I do use one of my favorite fall derivatives - cider.  I tried to keep the flavors simple, but also wanted this to be somewhat unique.  I hope I succeeded.

Chicken in Cider Mushroom Sauce

  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or pounded boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt and pepper for sprinkling
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup good apple cider
  • 10 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh sage
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper on both sides.  Heat olive oil in a large pan.  Brown the chicken breasts well on each side.  Remove from pan and keep warm.

Add onions to the pan.  Cook until soft and starting to take on some color.  Add mushrooms and cook until they are soft and releasing their liquid.  Add the cider to the pan, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom.  Bring to a boil and boil for two minutes.  Add the sage and reduce to a simmer. Return the chicken to the pan.  Cook until chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes depending on the thickeness of your meat.

Remove chicken from the pan.  Boil the sauce another minute.  Return to a simmer and stir in the cream.  Serve the sauce over the chicken.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Experimenting with Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Cookies

I remember my first taste of Nutella.  One of my favorite candy purveyors was doing a promotion on it when I was somewhere between the ages of 8 and 10.  The store was selling it in big jars as well as in little snack packs.  Unlike many children, I loved nuts.  Plus the the base was chocolate, and I don't need to say I have always loved chocolate.  When I bought a little snack pack of Nutella and tried it for the first time, I was in chocolate Heaven.  I didn't realize there was a substance on this planet that could taste so delicious.

After the promotion ended I didn't see Nutella much.  It was an occasional treat that I probably had less than once a year.  I was happy to have it whenever I could get it.

Once I learned about Nutella I realized hazelnuts are my favorite nuts.  Hazelnut flavoring just by itself is exceptionally delicious.  It makes coffee palatable.  It makes a delicious ice cream.  Hazelnut praline paste made up a cake fililng that was so delicious that I almost didn't have anything to fill the layers of my mother-in-law's birthday cake last year.  Adding chocolate to hazelnuts just takes something already delicious to a new level.

I know some crazy people aren't into it.  I remember in college I had bought some hazelnut chocolate truffles at a new gourmet store in town.  My boyfriend turned up his nose declaring that he only liked plain chocolate with no other flavors in it or mixed in with it (although he ate the various brownies I baked him filled with nuts and other treats). He also most decidedly did not like hazelnuts.  In her book Miss Media, Lynn Harris's main character declares hazelnut as an ice cream flavor "overrated".  I have been on internet forums where some crazy ladies have declared that Nutella is nothing special.  Today's recipe is not for these people.  If you're not a Hazel-nut, then go someplace else.

As much as I love Nutella, I am painfully aware of its drawbacks.  I know it's full of sugar and trans-fat.  No matter what they say in the commercials, it's not a nutritious or low-calorie treat.  What's a Nutella lover to do?  If you have a jar at home, it's awfully hard to keep the spoon out of it.

In the past year I discovered this.  Behold Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter.

Although it's not pure hazelnut (it contains almonds too), it has enough hazelnut flavor to satisfy.  It has less sugar than Nutella and no trans fats.  As far as I'm concerned it's plenty sweet enough.  It's not as smooth as Nutella - it's more like natural peanut butter that is well-integrated and has sat in the refrigerator for a while- it works in situations where Nutella works.  I used it to make cake frosting for my mother's birthday earlier this year and everyone ate the cake.

When I considered its similarities to peanut butter, I began to wonder, could I make peanut butter cookies with Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter?  Could I simply swap out peanut butter in a recipe?

I decided to give it a try.  I not only made the cookies with Justin's butter, but I also added chocolate chips and toasted chopped hazelnuts.

The only fault with these was I should have baked them a bit longer than I did.  Peanut butter cookies are usually not soft, but I wanted a soft cookie and underbaked them a bit, which made them a bit flabby and delicate.  They tended to break when you picked them up.  Otherwise, they were delicious.  Since the dough needs to be chilled, they were convenient to bake since I mixed them up in the morning, spent the day riding, and then baked them off in the evening when I came home.

I brought them to my office and I ended up coming home with some.  I don't get that!  At my old job these would have been gone by 10AM even if they were terrible.  No one finished these.  At least the folks who ate them enjoyed them.

Chocolate-Hazelnut-Butter Cookies


  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking power
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup toasted, chopped hazelnuts*
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
In a small bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Beat the butter until it is soft and fluffy.  Add both kinds of sugar and beat until the mixture is fluffy and sugar is incorporated.  Beat in the peanut butter and add the egg until well blended.  Beat in the vanilla.

Stir in the dry ingredients.  Gently stir in the chips and the nuts.  Gather the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours.

When ready to bake, heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Drop 1.5" balls onto a cookie sheet.  Bake for about 10-11 minutes.  Cool before removing from cookie sheet.

*I like to toast my nuts, rub off the skins, then place them in a plastic bag where I proceed to beat them with the blunt side of a meat hammer.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Have I Gone Plum Crazy?

Plums are the king of stone fruits.

I know it's kind of weird for me to say that.  How often do I mention plums on this blog?  I'm not sure I ever have.  I don't make posts that wax poetic on the tastiness of plums.  Until today I never posted a plum recipe.

For me plums have always sat quietly in the background.  While I have sat at my keyboard banging out recipes for sauces with peaches and brandy and ginger or baked numerous cherry pies and doused chicken cutlets and pork chops with cherry sauces, I was probably snacking on a plum.

Plums are very reliable and easy to eat.  The problem with peaches is that I can go to the farm market in the summer, purchase some beautiful ripe peaches, and bite into one expecting it to be divine - then be brutally disappointed to find out it's mealy or flavorless.  There is a little potential heartache in every peach.  Cherries, while delicious, are a little tough to eat.  In order to get your fill of cherries, you must each many of them.  That leaves you with the tedious process of the eat-spit-eat-spit-eat-spit routine that requires you to be vigilant about where those pits go.  As for apricots, I never liked their texture.  In a strange reversal of preferences, I only eat them dried.

While many plums are better than others, plums generally disappoint me far less than peaches.  As long as a plum decently ripe, I know I can expect a sweet bite into soft flesh against the contrast of the taught and tangy skin.  It's easy to eat around the pit in a larger plum and in the smaller ones, where you can devour them in a bite or two, you don't need to eat 20 (well, maybe I could) so it lacks the needs to constantly spit out pits that you have with cherries.

Childhood memory:  There was once a box of tiny plums in the house that I addicitvely attacked one night as a child.  I can still remember as I ate plum after plum my mother warning me, "You're going to get the runs."  Her warning was a mixture of amusement and fear.  They were plums, not prunes (remember I only do apricots dried).  While her prediction didn't come completely true, I'm not sure my stomach was all too happy with the plum onslaught.  Lesson learned.

It seems strange that I would never think to cook with plums.  I don't make plum cakes or plum jam or plum sauces.  This week I decided to remedy that.

I took my plums to the savory side and made a plum sauce for duck by roasting my plums with balsamic vinegar and rosemary with just a touch of honey.   It could have been sweeter.  Maybe more honey the next time.

Maybe next I should go to the sweet side and try a plum cake.  I know Sir Pickypants, hater of stone fruits except cherry pie, won't like it, but that means more for me.   I did make him at least taste the plums.  He ate everything I gave him (just a spoonful) but he didn't ask for more.

I served it over roast duck breast.  I was thinking of making this a duck recipe, but it's not much of a duck recipe.  Get a whole duck breast. Rub it with salt, pepper, and dried sage.   Cut slits in the skin.  Cook over low heat in a pan slowly, about 20 minutes occasionally removing some of the fat from the pan.  (You will save that fat if you know what's good for you.)  When skin is crispy, flip over and brown the other side for about 5 minutes.  Place in a 400 degree oven and roast an additional 15 minutes.  Let it rest a few minutes.  Slice and serve.

I had extra sauce and I intend to try it on pork chops next.

Roasted Balsamic Plum Sauce


  • 6-8 large black plums, pitted and cut into quarters
  • 2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp honey

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine all ingredients except plums in a bowl, whisking until well combined.  Toss plum quarters in the mixture.  Place on cookie sheet and roast 10 minutes or until plums are soft.

Remove from oven.  Chop into smaller pieces and toss with pan juices. Serve with duck, pork, chicken, or whatever other protein think would taste good with it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Meshugge Shiksa Strikes Again

How Meshugge is this shiksa?  I waited four days after Rosh Hoshanna to make a New Year dish and then waited another week to post it.

Most of the elements in my New Year Chicken will look familiar.  The ingredients are mostly the same.  This time around rather than do a quick-cooking sautéed dish, I did a long-cooking rice dish, inspired by an Arroz con Pollo recipe that came to my inbox via the multitude of food-related spam if receive daily. This is the slow-cooked comfort food version of the former dish.  My current chicken recipe consisted of cooking the chicken with the rice and then giving it a quick blast in the broiler to make the chicken crispy.  Then I sprinkled some almonds over the top for additional crunch.

My flavorings were very traditional for this time of year.  Everything was mostly sweet rather than savory or spicy.  I used wine, honey, caramelized onion, and dried apricots.  When you cook them in a dish this long they become nice and soft and almost impart a bit of tanginess.

I hope everyone who celebrated the High Holy Holidays this year had a joyous new year and an easy fast.

I will continue to be MIA a bit longer as I am returning to the stage this week (long overdue) as my theater group is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a retrospective concert.  I'll be singing wearing an electric bra!

I use brown rice for this.  If you prefer white, cut your cooking time down to 25 minutes.

New & Improved Meshugge Shiksa's New Year Chicken

  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 6-8 bone-in chicken pieces of your choice
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • About a half a cup of whole, roasted almonds
Heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large pan, heat olive oil over low heat.  Add onions and stir to coat.  Cook about 20 minutes, until they are soft and take on some color.  Remove from pan.  Bring heat to medium.

Place the chicken in the pan.  Brown chicken well on both sides - about 5-10 minutes per side.  Remove.

Add onions, broth, wine and honey.  Stir in rice and apricots.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and add chicken back to the pan.  Place in the oven and cook an additional 45 minutes or until rice is tender.

Set oven to broil.  Broil for an additional 3 minutes or until skin is crispy.  Remove from pan and sprinkle almonds over the top.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's Still Summer at the Market!

Hello Muffins.  Did everyone have a fun Labor Day?  I know I did.  I spent the weekend at a Bed & Breakfast, rode my ponies all weekend, had dinner at my favorite restaurant, The Iron Forge Inn, and even spent part of the day at the Renaissance Faire.

So now they tell me summer is over.  I was always told in school that the end of summer is marked by the autumnal equinox, not Labor Day.  For the next three weeks the days will still be longer than the nights, the weather will still have a good chance at staying warm, and, most of all, the farmer's markets will still have some of their bounty.

I know I haven't been posting many recipes this summer.  I suppose that's because so much of what I have been cooking has been simple recipes that let those farm-fresh ingredients speak for themselves.  It's stuff that I suppose is worth sharing, but at the same time, does anyone need a recipe for any of it?  That's why despite my commitment to more healthful eating, the recipes you are seeing here most often are the things I make for special treats and not regular meals.

I did some clever stuff this week, so I thought it was time to share.

When my husband told me yet again that he wanted turkey burgers for dinner, I decided right away to make yet another variation on ground turkey.  I saw a recipe online somewhere (and I lost the link and can't remember what the recipe was called, so I'm sorry I can't give full credit) for turkey burgers with zucchini and corn.  Burgers are kind of delicate for large loads of vegetables, so I made a turkey meat loaf.

This was made from:

2 pounds ground turkey
2 medium zucchini, shredded
1 large onion, diced
Kernels cut from one ear of corn
5 basil leaves, torn
1/2 cup almond flour (bread crumbs are fine if you prefer)
1 egg

I sauteed all of the vegetables and basil  in a little olive oil and then mixed it in with the turkey, almond flour, and egg.  It went into the oven for an hour at 400 degrees.

It's nice with a side of buttery cauliflower puree.

I have not been into doing decent photographs lately.

A few days later I was craving Mexican, but not the heavy, deep-fried, cheese-filled glop that normally tempts my taste buds. I wanted something more in line with my eating plan. but had some spicy Mexican flavors.

I came up with Un-Tacos.  In other words I made some taco filling, but piled it all on large leaves of butter lettuce that could be eaten with a knife and fork, or rolled up (a bit messily) as if it were a true taco.

What went into my Un-Tacos?  First I roasted some chicken breasts after sprinkling them with salt, pepper, cumin, ancho chili powder, and ground coriander.

I rinsed and drained a can of black beans and mixed them with chopped avocado and chopped bell pepper.

This was laid on the lettuce leaves and then covered with homemade salsa. It was the perfect way to use the last of the summer tomoates.  I will provide my recipe, although it's crazy basic.  You really don't need one.

Summer is fading fast, but I'm happy I can still enjoy the bounty.

Homemade Salsa

  • 1 bowl of cold salt water
  • 1 Tbl vinegar
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp salt
  •  3 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, cored, seeded and chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 Tbl cilantro
Place onion in salt water and vinegar for about a half an hour.  This will take the bite out of the raw onion.

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until everything is a slightly chunky liquid.  Serve with just about anything but dessert!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Summer Family Fest

There was only one thing I disliked about my 2010 trip to Paris.

It's the fact that while I was gone, my brother and his wife's family held a pig roast and I missed it.  I only was able to experience it secondhand because my brother did a guest post about it.  Lucky for my dear readers, it meant they could share in it as well.

I was thrilled to learn that he was planning to have another one this summer.  As soon as I had the invitation I responded with an enthusiastic, "YES."  There was no way I was going to miss the porcine feast this time.  Even though I'm down nearly 15 pounds, I was willing to throw my diet over for a day for this one.

I am not totally selfish though.  If my brother was going to invite me to his home to partake of his pig, I would make my contribution to the feast.  Family can't live on pig alone after all.

To begin I made my very first baked beans.  Since I have been doing a few experiments with dried beans in the past year, I really wanted to try my hand at baked beans.  I kept hoping I would be invited to a party or barbecue where I could finally make them.

My sauce was tomato paste, cider vinegar, dark brown sugar, smoked paprika, chipotle powder, cinnamon, mustard, soy sauce, onions, garlic and salt pork.  Most cooks like to use bacon, but I always find that bacon in homemade baked beans loses its appeal.  Once it's cooked until crispy and left to sit in the bean pot for hours, it becomes limp, tough, and flavorless.  When you open a can of pork and beans, you don't see limp chewy pieces of bacon, you see big chunks of soft, fatty pork.  I remember how much I loved being the recipient of those pork bits in the bean can as a child.  I wanted the pork in my beans to be more like what you find in the can.  I feel that salt pork or fatback most closely resemble that.

Since I always have to bring dessert to a party, I also made these caramel cashew blondies.  Recipe look familiar?  It should.  I borrowed this one from Emily.  Her recipe post suggested browning the butter, which I thought was a splendid idea.   I adjusted the recipe and added half stick of butter.  I find when I make desserts with brown butter some of the liquid evaporates from the butter and can make the desserts a little drier (a good example of that was my hazelnut pound cake).  I figured a little extra butter would help with that.

It was an evening filled with food an merriment.  We had a Hawaiian theme going with everyone in leis and the kids loving their grass skirts.  Of course when presented with a lei I had to exclaim, "I GOT LEI'D!"

We had all kinds of good stuff to drink like sangria, tres leches liqueur (a new discovery I made), and a nice selection of wine.

We had an amazing assortment of salads along with the beans.  I don't even remember what was in all of them.  I know there were almonds and orange slices in one and avocados in another and Mom did one with watermelon and feta.  There was also one with green beans and tomatoes.

But the pig was the main event.  As the evening went on I was able to see the stages of cooking it.

When I first arrived it looked a little anemic.

 Eventually it was all beautifully browned and crispy and ready to come out of the box.

My bro poses with his creation.

 You can't have a pig without an apple it its mouth!

 Soon it was time to carve it up.  All of the guests were becoming seriously impatient!

 It wasn't easy getting all that good food on one plate!

We had an equally fun time with desserts.  In addition to my blondies (which Emily should know were a big hit) we had my sister-in-laws awesome coconut cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, and a cake for SIL's parents' birthdays.

All in all it was a great party and worth every calorie.  Delicious food and good company all around.  I can't wait until we do this again!

Now for the bean recipe.  Please note I was making beans for 50 people, so this is for 2 pounds of beans.  If you are sane and only doing it with one bag of beans, you might want to adjust the liquid in the recipe and adjust the cooking time.  The best thing you can do is check the beans hourly and make sure they aren't hard and have enough liquid in the pot.

My brother made a tasty improvement to these beans once we were at the party.  They were getting cold by the time it was time to serve them, so he put them on the grill.  That not only warmed them up, but gave them a nice smoky flavor.  Not a bad idea to do for beans at a barbecue in the future.

Homemade Baked Beans Short (dis)Order Cook Style

  • 2 lbs dried Great Northern Beans
  • 1 lb salt pork or fatback, diced
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2-4 cloves (depending on size) garlic, minced
  • 1 18 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbl smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 Tbl soy sauce
  • 2 Tbl grainy Dijon mustard

Place beans in a pot and cover with about 10 cups of water.  Soak 8 hours or overnight.

Drain beans and reserve the liquid.  Heat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix together the tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, paprika, chipotle, cinnamon, soy sauce and mustard.  Set aside. 

Cook the pork in a large pot with a lid until the bits are crispy and the fat has rendered out.  Pour off two tablespoons of the fat (but leave some of that fat in there because FAT IS FLAVOR, PEOPLE).  Cook the onions in the pot until soft.  Add the garlic and cook another minute or two until fragrant.

Add the soaked beans to the pot.  Stir to coat with the fat, onions, and pork.  Stir in the sauce.  Add in two cups of the soaking liquid and three cups of vegetable stock.  Stir well.

Put a lid on the pot and place in the oven.  Cook for 5-6 hours until beans are soft.  Check the beans every hour, giving them a good stir.  Check the consistency and add more of the soaking liquid as necessary.